Global Family Planning Efforts Struggle with U.S. Funding Cuts: Programs Vital to Women's Health

By Krisberg, Kim | The Nation's Health, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Global Family Planning Efforts Struggle with U.S. Funding Cuts: Programs Vital to Women's Health


Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health


THE UNITED STATES has been funding international family planning programs for decades, subscribing to the belief that such services are "vital to safe motherhood and healthy families," according to the U.S Agency for International Development. But for the past few years, maintaining U.S. funding levels has been a battle--and this year is no different.

In his fiscal year 2007 federal budget proposal, President Bush recommended an 18 percent reduction in international family planning funds, which would put 2007 funding at $357 million, well below the 2006 level of $440 million. While the federal budget has not yet been passed by Congress, an appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives in June would fund such programs up to $432 million. International family planning programs, which can provide services ranging from access to contraceptives to ensuring safe pregnancy and childbirth to sexually transmitted disease prevention, have been level-funded, more or less, since 2001. And while level funding is better than cuts, it is not enough to keep pace with global needs, according program supporters.

"Family planning funding is being eaten up by inflation," said Genevieve Grabman, senior legislative associate at the Global Health Council.

The most recent high-water mark for U.S. international family planning funds was in 1995 when the United States gave more than $541 million, Grabman said, noting that with inflation, current levels constitute a 30 percent reduction. Adjusting 1995 levels for inflation coupled with population growth in developing nations, current U.S. funding should be at about $865 million, she said.

"We know that family planning programs work to save poor women and poor children's lives," Grabman told The Nation's Health. "They have shown to be some of the most efficacious programs the United States has ever invested in."

U.S. international family planning funds are allocated by USAID via grants to countries, non-governmental organizations or specific programs in more than 50 countries--and the funding has been part of a worldwide movement that has reaped great progress on a number of fronts. Each year, family planning programs around the globe prevent 60 million unplanned pregnancies, 105 million abortions, 22 million miscarriages and almost 3 million infant deaths, according to the United Nations Population Fund, also known as UNFPA. In addition to addressing health issues such as birth control, international family planning programs have also become places where women can talk freely about their health problems and fears, such as contracting HIV. Still, wide disparities remain in maternal and child health for families in developing nations, many of which can be addressed through increased family planning and reproductive health services.

According to the World Health Organization, reproductive and sexual health problems account for 20 percent of the global illness burden for women. About 529,000 women, most in developing countries, die every year from mostly preventable pregnancy and childbirth problems, and about 8 million women who become pregnant annually suffer life-threatening complications due to sexually transmitted diseases and poor sexual health. Also, about 120 million women in the developing world, most of whom are married, want modern contraception, but do not have access to services.

"The unfortunate reality in developing countries is that the only health care for women is maternal health care," said the Global Health Council's Grabman. "Family planning is often doing double duty in providing primary care for women and their children."

The United States, she said, helped create many family planning programs because policy-makers "believed it was in our best interest to do something about maternal and child death." As a result of responding to women's and children's basic needs, countries reaped robust economic growth that stems from being home to a healthier population. …

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